Clause 53

Part of Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 1:30 pm on 22 November 2007.

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Photo of David Hanson David Hanson The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice 1:30, 22 November 2007

I welcome you back to the Chair for the afternoon sitting, Mr.O’Hara. I am grateful to the hon. Members for Enfield, Southgate and for Somerton and Frome for raising again the issues that they have raised today. I hope that at the end of the discussion clause 53 will stand part of the Bill.

The youth conditional caution is, as I know the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate is aware, designed as a disposal to prevent young people from going before the court for offences that are deemed not to be sufficiently serious. We want to extend the range of out-of-court options to avoid their going to court. The benefit for a young person would be in having a matter dealt with  much more speedily than by a court referral; from my perspective the approach would improve community confidence in the youth justice system.

The hon. Gentleman will know about several recent cases in which effectively minor offences have led to court appearances by young people. The youth conditional caution is designed to try to avoid that scenario, by providing a better way of dealing with several minor incidents, so that young people who have exhausted existing out-of-court disposals and who then commit low-level offences can be kept out of court. The principle is to try to prevent young people from going to court.

The hon. Gentlemen have asked three questions about the broad principle of youth conditional cautions. First they asked whether and how we have evaluated the use of the cautions for 18-year-olds. Secondly they asked about costs and savings implications. Thirdly, they asked the valid question why, if a 16 or 17-year-old could be liable under the Bill for a youth conditional caution, a 15-year-old could not also face that prospect. I shall try to answer those three questions, rather than to go into detail about youth conditional cautions, because I suspect that hon. Members know the principle, and there is not much point in my going over it.

We have undertaken an evaluation—the details of which have not yet been published, so I hope that the hon. Gentleman will take what I say on trust—which we commissioned in 13 early implementation areas in six criminal justice areas in England and Wales, to provide evidence to inform our national roll-out. There was an evaluation from December 2004 to November 2005, and I hope to be able to publish its results shortly. The evaluation shows a positive impact from youth conditional cautions for 18-year-olds. I am looking forward to publication taking place shortly. I am examining the results; but there is value in what has been done.